In 2016, on just £450 of funding from MK SOUP, we successfully created a multi-sensory adaptation of Jane Evans' 'Little Meerkat's Big Panic'. This little not-for-profit theatre show about the neuroscience of anxiety has gone on to win an award (Best Community Project 2016), and to be booked into a range of theatre festivals, as well as visiting a range of early years settings and professional conferences in under a year; this production is still ongoing.
During the course of our day-to-day work in early years settings, as well as when performing 'Little Meerkat's Big Panic', we hear from parents/carers and professionals that they would like a resource to help very young children understand anger - from frustration to grief, from tantrums to aggression - and to find healthy ways to express and handle these big feelings. The great thing about the theatre we produce is that it helps grown ups to reflect on their feelings and behaviours too, so we wanted to respond to this request in a way that would be beneficial for everyone and that uses our passion: multi-sensory theatre.
So! We have developed an original story called 'Crabby'.
Crabby is a little hermit crab in search of a new home. As she searches for just the right shell, she encounters a range of relational situations and accidental circumstances that trigger all sorts of grumpy, cross, sad and frustrated feelings, and through which Crabby learns a range of strategies for coping from self-regulation to assertiveness, to negotiation and compromise.
The production is set in a rock pool at the Edwardian seaside and features traditional musical hall songs from the era, as well as actors in period swimwear! Multi-sensory experiences include water marbles, gross motor activities including rope mazes, giant therapy ball bubbles, seaside smells and objects. The show will also be narrated by a real mermaid!
As with 'Little Meerkat's Big Panic', performances will last around 20 minutes and are then followed by up to 30 minutes of sensory play. This production is different in that it will be immersive: audiences will be 'in' the action, rather than just observers.
Work of this kind is important because it brings rich and special experiences directly to where children and their families are. Our productions are designed to be self-contained and to be performed in any space, whether in a classroom, outdoors, in refuges or hostels, etc. Helping children and grown ups to become skilful and confident in managing difficult feelings contributes to efforts to improve everyone's mental health and wellbeing. We want to support parents/carers and other adults who look after children, and create accessible and inclusive experiences that are memorable, beautiful, and inspiring.
Our aim is to make the production available for early years settings, primary and special schools, community events, children's hospices, festivals and conferences. It will also be not-for-profit with a fixed fee per day to cover a basic freelance wage for performers, and expenses such as petrol and insurance; surpluses are reinvested in the project to cover marketing, renewal of equipment, festival fees, etc.